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Ideas of Wilderness

1 hour, 15 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 21 June 2009

Jenny Agutter and Anton Lesser explore ideas of wilderness from all corners of the globe, reading works by WH Auden, eco-writer Jeffers Robinson, the Australian Elizabeth Brown, Shackleton and the Taoist wilderness literature of Ancient China. Music includes excerpts from Messiaen's Des Canyons aux Etoiles, Redolfi's Mare Teno, Purcell's Solitude and Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet.

Music Played

33 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Image for Paul Reade

    Paul Reade Aspects of Landscape (extract)

    Performers: Nicholas Daniel (oboe)

    Leman LC 42801

  • Chia Tao

    Evening Landscape, Clearing Snow read by Jenny Agutter

  • Image for Michel Redolfi

    Michel Redolfi Mare Teno

    Performers: Thomas Bloch (ondes martenot)

    Naxos 8.555779

  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    Frost at Midnight read by Anton Lesser

  • Image for Frédéric Chopin

    Frédéric Chopin Frédéric Chopin - Nocturne No.5 in F-sharp major, Op.15 No.2 (Larghetto)

    Performers: Maria Joao Pires (piano)

    DG 447096-2, CD1 Track 5

  • Wilderness Act

    Wilderness Act - Public Law 88-566, September 3, 1964 read by Anton Lesser

  • Robinson Jeffers

    Shine, Perishing Republic read by Jenny Agutter

  • Image for African American Spritual

    African American Spritual Go in the Wilderness

    Performers: The Princely Players

    Smithsonian Folkways 40072

  • Gerald Manley Hopkins

    Inversnaid read by Anton Lesser

  • Image for Jean Sibelius

    Jean Sibelius The Swan of Tuonela

    Performers: Jukka Hirvikangas (cor anglais), Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vanska (conductor)

    BIS CD 1015

  • Image for Paul Reade

    Paul Reade Aspects of Landscape (extract)

    Performers: Nicholas Daniel (oboe)

    Leman LC 42801

  • Han Shan

    220 read by Jenny Agutter

  • Image for Dmitri Shostakovich

    Dmitri Shostakovich String Quartet No 8 - Largo (4th movement)

    Performers: Brodsky Quartet

    Teldec 244 919-2

  • Shackleton

    Beyond all Former Footsteps (extract) read by Anton Lesser

  • W. H. Auden

    Journey to Iceland (AL & JA)

  • Image for Medieval Icelandic

    Medieval Icelandic The song of Fire and Ice

    Performers: Sequentia

    DHM 05472773812

  • Image for György Ligeti

    György Ligeti Magany (Solitude)

    Performers: Groupe vocal de France

    EMI 7540962

  • Robert Herrick

    His Change read by Anton Lesser

  • Edgar Allan Poe

    The City in the Sea read by Jenny Agutter

  • Image for Henry Purcell

    Henry Purcell O Solitude, My Sweetest Choice

    Performers: James Bowman (countertenor)

    Hyperion CDA66253

  • Skeaping/Jeffrey

    In the Wilderness -timeless evocation: solo tambour

  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    Sand of the Desert in an Hour-Glass read by Anton Lesser

  • Image for Skeaping/Jeffrey

    Skeaping/Jeffrey Night in the Desert – descending scales: on santur

    Sounds of the Jewish World, KPM 342

  • Image for Olivier Messiaen

    Olivier Messiaen Le desert (from Des Canyons aux Etoiles)

    Performers: Yvonne Loriod (piano), Ensemble Ars Nova, Marius Constant (conductor)

    Erato M2K 44762

  • Edward Hopper

    Fountains in the Wilderness read by Jenny Agutter

  • Image for Hotteterre

    Hotteterre Dans ces deserts paisable (air)

    Performers: Wilbert Hazelzet (traverse), Konrad Junghanel (theorbo)

    Glossa GCD920801

  • Image for Ralph Vaughan Williams

    Ralph Vaughan Williams Symphony No 3 – Lento Moderato

    Performers: London Symphony Orchestra, Andre Previn (conductor)

    RCA GD90503

  • William Wordsworth

    IV on the sight of a manse in the south of Scotland read by Jenny Agutter

  • John Clare

    Bird o’ the wilderness read by Anton Lesser

  • Image for Charlie McMahon

    Charlie McMahon Ephemeral Lakes


  • Elizabeth Brown

    Spiritual Land read by Anton Lesser

  • Image for Paul Reade

    Paul Reade Aspects of Landscape (extract)

    Performers: Nicholas Daniel (oboe)

    Leman LC 42801

  • T’ao Ch’ien

    Home Again Among Fields and Gardens read by Jenny Agutter

  • Jenny Agutter

    Jenny Agutter

  • Anton Lesser

    Anton Lesser

  • Producer Note

    ‘Wilderness’ conjures up images of vast uncultivated planes, the endless sand-dunes or rock-formations in the deserts, the vast expanses of the ice lands, the immensity of oceans, the jagged peaks of colossal mountains and also the rolling hills, tranquil lakes and verdant forests of lowland countryside. ‘Wilderness’ is a place kept wild, seemingly untouched by the progress of civilizations. Or is it?

    As consciousness about the environment increases, what is perceived to be ‘wilderness’ is becoming more fragile. The idea of wilderness is not as fixed as it might first seem and depends on perceived relationships between humankind and nature. These relationships are culturally determined and the idea of wilderness is not only man-made, but also plural. There is a clear distinction between the Eastern (Taoist) and Western ideas of wilderness. Whereas Western writers understand wilderness as otherness, something apart from humankind, and as a metaphysical aspiration, Ancient Chinese poets express the oneness of human life and wilderness.

  • ...

    This edition of Words and Music is a journey through different ideas of wilderness that begins and ends with the idea of wilderness as home, whether in the vast Taoist ('cosmological’) tradition of wilderness literature, or the romantic western idea of wilderness as a refuge from the city, a place of outstanding natural beauty and, ultimately, a symbol of freedom. At the outset of the journey, Chia Tao’s ‘Evening Landscape, Clearing Snow’ is juxtaposed with Coleridge’s ‘Frost at Midnight’ and accompanied by Paul Reade’s Aspects of Landscape for solo oboe and Redolfi’s Mare Teno for ondes Martenot. Paul Reade’s Aspects of Landscape return at the end of the programme under T’ao Ch’ien’s ‘Home again among Fields and Gardens’.

  • ...

    The programme explores the preservation of what we perceive to be wild places through the 1964 US Wilderness Act, the eco-writing of Robinson Jeffers and Hopkins’ ‘Inversnaid’. Wilderness is also hostile, as described by Shackleton and Auden, and accompanied by the austere Largo from Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.8. There is also an idea of psychological wilderness, absolute solitude, as in Ligeti’s Magany (Solitude) and Robert Herrick’s poem, ‘His Change’. Then the programme journeys into the quintessential Wilderness, the desert, in the words of Longfellow and Edward Hopper (‘Fountains in the Wilderness’) and music from Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux Etoiles. The haunting slow movement of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Pastoral Symphony’ underpins the romantic visions of wilderness expressed in Wordsworth’s ‘On the Sight of a manse in the south of Scotland’ and John Clare’s ‘Bird o’ the wilderness.’ Finally, we return to wilderness as home, to Elizabeth Brown’s ‘Spiritual Land’ of the Australian Outback and Charlie McMahon’s Ephemeral Lakes for didgeridoo.

    Because the programme is a continuous journey through different ideas of wilderness, the beginnings and ends of some of the music are blurred. There are also sound effects taken from the tundra, deserts and ice lands; howling arctic winds and footsteps in snow.

    Elizabeth Arno (producer)


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